Episode 1×6 “Footfall”
By Andrew Peregrine
From Strange New Worlds
Airdate: March 18, 2023
After completing repairs at Starbase 6, USS Lexington undertook a survey of the Draconis Sector, nearly completing it by the time Starfleet diverted her to Ashgrave IV, popularly known as Footfall. Since its discovery by human explorers in the early 21st Century, the barren class-M world was known for the spiritual and religious feelings evoked in everyone who visited the surface. With little of value in terms of minerals or farmland, the entire planet was considered a heritage site by United Earth and later the Federation. A small colony of around 2,000 people sprang up around the administration building with its transporter pads, making it the only colony with a few nondenominational shrines scattered around the surface. The Federation strictly controls the number of pilgrims allowed to visit to avoid spoliation of the environment or any land claims by one denomination or another. The name Footfall came about as numerous theistic religions inferred, or entertained the possibility, that the undeniable spiritual energy of the place was due to this being the spot where the creator of the universe stood to survey the universe after creation.
On December 25, 2270, Christmas Day back on Earth, the Lexington arrived in orbit of Ashgrave IV with orders to apprehend a militant group that had committed acts of vandalism. Normally this kind of thing would not require a starship, but the Federation’s light hand on Footfall meant that there were only 20 Starfleet personnel on the planet so backup was necessary. Also, the very visible deployment of a Constitution-class starship was likely a publicity stunt by Starfleet to reassure the various religious communities interested in Footfall that they were taking the situation seriously.
An away team of Captain Birdsong, Sabin Trall, and Dr. Grelox would attempt to make contact with the militants and bring them in quietly if possible. Thalon assigned Ensign Gao as their security escort. Since so far the militants’ actions were limited to property damage, a conciliatory approach could be tried first. However, mindful of the possibility of escalation, Dr. Jorus and Chief Dwayne would be readying the medical staff to receive casualties and set up triage units in the cargo bays—mass casualties from bombs or IEDs could fill up sickbay quickly. The away team also decided against taking extra tactical gear like phaser rifles or personal shield emitters, although Thalon would have backup available on the ship with heavier armament should it be needed.
Upon beaming down to the plaza in the center of the colony, the away team was at once struck by how calm and peaceful the residents and pilgrims were, and several passersby offered greetings and blessings according to their various traditions. It was nearly sundown, and the views of both the landscape and the starry sky were spectacular. Gao remarked that it was as if he could look up and see the whole universe.
Commander Indira Chahal, the planet’s governor, greeted the away team and was glad to see them. She showed video footage of a group of civilians in burlap robes, from various species, using bags and tools to smash in the windows of most of the shops along the Main Street. They did not seem to care that they were being recorded, or maybe even wanted to be, as several made eye contact with cameras during the raid. However, when encountering other civilians, they were careful to avoid them and not hurt anyone. Chahal explained that this group calls itself the Voice of Purity, led by a woman Chahal knows, one Annalisa Duval. Duval initially came as a tourist on a backpacking trip and, upon arriving on Footfall, went from atheist to believer almost overnight and quickly became an outspoken member of the community. Originally, she was demanding they more pilgrims be allowed to visit Footfall—simply an increase in the number of visas—but a few months ago she set up a commune away from the main colony. More recently, the commune members took the name Voice of Purity and began demanding that everyone bring their belief systems in line with theirs. Chahal showed the away team a PADD listing the members’ demands. Although pretty close to the common core of most religions, no one is happy about someone else telling them their faith is ‘wrong,’ and the demands have naturally fallen on deaf ears. Adding some delicacy, while most of the Voice of Purity members are Federation citizens, at least two Gorn and two Klingon former pilgrims have been spotted on the cameras joining in the vandalism, so the potential for an international incident is high if the situation can’t be resolved peacefully.
Chahal gave the away team coordinates for the location of the old commune. Orbital scans from the Lexington showed the site deserted and abandoned. Chahal suspected the militants might be hiding in the caves of the hill country nearby, where mineral deposits in the rocks interfered with sensors and transporters. Once at closer range, tricorders might be able to get a more precise fix.
The away team walked along a dusty road from the colony out toward the hills, scanning with tricorders along the way. Odd energy readings all around them coalesced into life signs, and the away team found itself under attack by what could only be described as four demons: red-skinned, horned, hooved and tailed, over two meters tall and striking with talons. The biggest, meanest demon clobbered Captain Birdsong, ripping three deep gashes in the side of her face and neck and knocking her prone. As the demon stood over her to finish her off, Birdsong, losing consciousness, instinctively pulled the crucifix necklace from under her tunic and gripped it, causing the demon to recoil on sight. Before any other away team members could be hurt, two dozen Voice of Purity members came racing down from the hills, brandishing their various religious ornaments and symbols, scaring the demons away.
Duval was friendly toward the away team, happy that their presence meant her demands were being taken seriously, and checking on their welfare. Seeing that the Captain had been hurt, Duval invited them back to their hideout to take refuge, which Sabin accepted. Two Gorn members hefted Birdsong into a hammock and carried her as the entire group proceeded into the caves. The hideout was sparsely furnished with blankets and cots, with a food replicator for sustenance. The away team declined Duval’s offer of refreshment, wanting to see to their wounded comrade first. Duval helped them make Birdsong comfortable in the common room, and Grelox used his medkit to treat her injuries with Sabin assisting. While Birdsong regained consciousness and chatted with Duval, Grelox surreptitiously scanned the Voice of Purity members present. All of them had very high esper ratings, just short of Gary Mitchell, but were otherwise normal and in good health.
Duval was initially friendly, but was perplexed by the away team’s skepticism at the Voice of Purity’s demands and questions about how they could be so certain of their beliefs. She states that an angel appears to them and gave them instructions—and she offered introduce them to the angel as well. Duval made it clear that they were running out of time, as the demonic attacks were becoming more frequent due to the people’s lack of conformity and the resulting chaos behind it was growing faster than the creator’s power to stop it.
The away team followed Duval and several of her adherents to a holy site in the wilderness. After about 10 minutes of prayer and meditation, the angel did indeed appear and declared that all believers must be of one faith and one mind, or the creator will purge the universe or those who failed to comply. The angel was unable to answer the away team’s questions about why this was necessary or what sort of purge this would be—the angel stated it was not the creator, only a messenger. Sabin scanned the angel with his tricorder and noticed that its energy signature was organic and was generating a low-level telepathic field. At this point, the angel stated that time had run out and vanished.
The Lexington hailed, with Athytti informing the away team that sensors detected a large storm approaching the colony from the northwest, which would hit in less than an hour. Orbital imaging showed the storm was made up of high winds and flying demons. Patching in, Chahal requested the away team return immediately to help her prepare the colony to weather the storm. Ter’Rec executed a point-to-point transport, beaming the away team from the holy site to the plaza. Grelox sent as many of the elderly and infirm as possible to the transporter room so they could beam up to the Lexington. The rest of the away team helped residents and pilgrims barricade themselves in their homes and hostels for safety. A Klingon pilgrim foolishly decided to stand out in the storm as a test of his devotion to Kahless, but Birdsong convinced him that he would have a more honorable death protecting a hostel full of children who couldn’t be beamed up to the ship in time.
No sooner had they sealed the Klingon inside with the children than the storm arrived. Chahal ordered everyone inside, and the away team took off toward the government center at a dead run. A pack of demons from the side street intercepted them and clotheslined Gao, knocking him prone. Birdsong and Grelox attempted to pick him up and carry him, but a piece of flying debris hit them and drove them back. Chahal and her aides grabbed Birdsong, Grelox, and Sabin by the collars and yanked them inside the government center lobby, then Chahal immediately closed the doors and locked them.
Gao managed to get to his feet and fled behind the stone obelisk at the center of the plaza, hiding from the demons. As another group of demons closed on Gao from behind, help arrived: a choir of angels singing hymns descended from the maelstrom in the sky, splitting up and engaging the demons in hand-to-hand combat. Defeated angels or demons vanished into energy and disappeared. Grelox and Birdsong, observing this from inside the government center, noted waves of telepathic and frustration washing over them as the brutal combat continued. Sabin’s tricorder scans detected that the angels and demons were both composed of the same type of energy. Once the last angels and demons had annihilated each other, near dawn, the telepathic outburst also subsided. The colony looked like it had been ripped apart by a tornado but nobody was hurt. Gao came over and pounded on the government center’s doors, declaring all clear.
Reestablishing comms with the Lexington, the away team learned from Athytti that a similar energy field infused the whole planet and sensors located a nearby mountain where the energy appeared to bleed out from the planet’s core. Chahal knew the place. The mountaintop had long been considered a holy place, and many pilgrims over the years reported receiving messages from the divine there. Duval was one of them, returning from a trip up the mountain with the tenets of the Voice of Purity from a dream and vision she had there. The away team decided to visit the mountaintop in hopes of making contact themselves. Chahal filled them in on the traditional ritual: they should walk up to the summit on foot, preferably barefoot, wearing only clothing made of natural fibers (Chahal had some suitable non-replicated garb to lend them); they should not take any technology with them; they should bathe before starting the journey at dawn; and before leaving, they should tell a secret or settle a debt to purity their souls.
Sabin provided some pushback on the technology, wanting to at least bring one communicator, but relented when the others argued that the Lexington could monitor them from orbit with sensors and visual contact, and he could trust Athytti and Ter’Rec to beam them out in time if they got into trouble.
As evening fell, the away team members shared their secrets, finding someone they could tell in confidence. Gao told an Andorian clergyman he was in love with Xellein, which the clergyman blandly replied didn’t seem to be very secret.
Grelox confessed to a monk that he let a patient die while on Romulus with the Interspecies Medical Exchange under pressure from the Tal Shiar, who threatened retaliation against his other patients if he did not allow the dissident to die of a curable illness and falsify the death records.
Birdsong told Grelox that during ROTC, she had to choose between her Starfleet career and her hometown boyfriend, who wanted her to get married and stay on Earth. When she chose Starfleet and refused his engagement, he was left an emotional wreck, and dropped out of college not long afterwards.
Sabin told Birdsong that there was more to the story of his Starfleet Academy incident than the official record shows. What was publicly known was that Sabin testified against a professor whose experiment caused the death of a fellow cadet and nearly killed Sabin as well, and the professor was convicted and sent to prison. What wasn’t known to anyone else was that Sabin didn’t just testify because he cared about the cadet who died—he was coerced by the Academy’s chancellor and provost to make sure the Academy did not take any blame, or else Sabin would have been court-martialed himself for other misconduct. Instead, Sabin testified and made sure to lay all the blame on the professor, not the Academy, and got to walk away with a clean record. Sabin has ever since had serious issues with authority. He told Birdsong that since being assigned to the Lexington, he had found her leadership inspiring and he trusts her, and hopes she can trust him.
The away team spent the night in the government center’s barracks and Chahal woke them shortly before dawn. They bathed, put on their pilgrims’ robes, and climbed to the summit. It was an exhausting 4-hour climb but fortunately did not require any special equipment. The views from the mountain as the sun came up were spectacular. As the away team reached the summit around noon, they found a small shrine offering shelter and water and refreshed themselves. The sky grew strangely dark despite the hour, and light poured out of the ground and formed into a shining avatar. To Birdsong and Sabin, both Christians, the avatar looked like Jesus of Nazareth; Grelox and Gao were non-observant and saw a shining ball of light. All four could feel intense feelings of divine power washing out from it. This being spoke directly in their minds, asking who they were and how they planned to help. Birdsong responded by asking why this being believed it was God. It responded confidently that it could do many of the things that God should be able to: it could read the minds of everyone on the planet, including theirs (which it demonstrated by telling Birdsong and Grelox their confessed secrets), it could manifest angels and demons, replicate objects large and small, and throw lightning bolts and manipulate energy (which thankfully had not been tested on the Lexington). However, Sabin and Birdsong were able to demonstrate to this entity that it was not God, by pointing out some observed limitations: although it is telepathic and can read minds, it’s range is limited to the planet and low orbit; the angels and demons are manifestations of its own telepathic energy and are not “alive,” nor are they capable of independent thought or leaving the planet; it can only replicate things it has observed or has telepathically pulled from the minds of others, and replicated objects dissolve into energy upon leaving the planet. The entity was immensely relieved to hear this, since the pressure of being God was causing its stress and confusion. It then asked what it should do with its existence.
“I can’t tell you,” Birdsong said, “but there are plenty of people here who are trying to figure it out just like you.”
Returning to the plaza, the away team found that a crowd of pilgrims including the Voice of Purity had gathered awaiting their news. Explaining what occurred on the mountaintop, Birdsong chose to frame the discovery in a positive way: the faithful now had an unexpected partner in the search for meaning, as the planet itself was now a pilgrim too. One of the Gorn who had joined the Voice of Purity spoke for those who were disappointed, despairing that they were wrong, the spiritual energy had a mundane source, and there was no God.
“No, it doesn’t mean there’s no God,” Duval said to the Gorn softly, shaking her head, “it just means this place isn’t what we thought.”
Many of the Lexington’s crew seemed to agree with Duval’s assessment. Even with the truth out, more shore leave requests were coming in than the last time the ship was at Risa. With militant activity resolved and the Voice of Purity dissolved, and first contact with a new life form in the process, Starfleet considered the mission a resounding success. As New Year’s Eve, 2270, came to a close, the Lexington’s company could take pride in knowing Starfleet needed a new crew, and they had risen to the occasion.
Geoff: Birdsong, Ter’Rec
Peter: Grelox, Gao
Modular laboratory focus: n/a
Crew support used: 4
Lexington damage: n/a
Shuttlecraft destroyed: 0
On the next Star Trek Adventures…the Season 2 premiere…
2×1 “A World with a Bluer Sun”